Rio camp re-opening welcomed by Dampier community

Alicia PereraPilbara News
The entrance to Peninsula Palms in Dampier.
Camera IconThe entrance to Peninsula Palms in Dampier. Credit: Pilbara News, Tom Zaunmayr

The Dampier Community Association has welcomed council approval for Rio Tinto’s mothballed workers’ village, Peninsula Palms, to be reopened in the hope the hundreds of people it will accommodate will inject new life into the town.

At a meeting last Thursday, City of Karratha councillors voted 5-2 in favour of approving an application for redevelopment of the 568-bed camp on the Dampier coast, stipulating the main block of buildings would be occupied for up to 10 years.

The motion also included a new requirement for Rio to remove dongas on the ocean-side portion of the land, nicknamed tin city, in five years.

Councillors Daniel Scott and Pablo Miller voted against the motion, in opposition to further FIFO accommodation in towns.

The DCA supported Rio’s application, making a submission to council that redeveloping the camp would increase business and community activity in town and improve the appearance of the 70s-era, now-vacant buildings.

DCA president Gill Furlong said the community was excited the camp had received the go-ahead from council and hoped the influx of FIFO workers it would bring to Dampier would usher in a town revival.

“I think boosting the presence of more people in Dampier is a good thing,” she said.

“A lot of these workers are people who have lived in Dampier in the past and are committed to participating in a little bit of life in Dampier, whether it’s sporting events, going to the shops, grabbing a coffee — that’s all a boost to our economy.”

Peninsula Palms was closed in 2015 — along with another Rio camp in Dampier, Kangaroo Hill — when the mining giant decided to consolidate accommodation of its workforce into a single facility, and moved about 200 workers to Searipple Camp in Karratha.

The decision was considered a significant blow to small businesses in Dampier.

It is believed Rio has sought to re-open the camp to have more control over the supply of workforce accommodation rooms with changes in demand.

A Rio spokesman said the company welcomed the council’s decision and expected the camp’s workers to integrate as much as possible with the wider Dampier community.

“The proposed upgrade and reopening are expected to deliver significant benefits for Dampier, through increased participation in community events and direct spend in the town by residents of Peninsula Palms,” he said.

“Rooms, facilities and grounds will all undergo a major renovation to provide high-quality accommodation for our workforce.”

“Importantly, it will also reduce the commute time for those working at the port.”

City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long said although council did not want more FIFO over residential accommodation in the region, the fact Peninsula Palms was an established building, in the Dampier CBD and could help activate the community made it more acceptable.

He also said the company had altered the design plans in consultation with the City to make the redevelopment more community-friendly.

“We wanted (Rio) to do their building up – they were just going to do it up inside, so now we’ve got them to (improve it) on the outside as well, so it looks like a newer building instead of something that’s that old... and they’ve now agreed to move (tin city) on in five years,” he said.

“It’s give and take and I think in the end we’re both reasonably happy with the outcome.”

Rio is now seeking capital funding approval to upgrade the camp facilities.

Construction is expected to start early next year and the facility opened in mid-2019, subject to funding approval.

Stage one of the project will involve re-opening the camp’s central facilities and 392 rooms across the motel and tin city blocks and converting the former wet mess to a gym.

The second stage will consist of another 224 rooms being opened across the remaining four blocks, and 48 rooms removed from tin city.

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